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Agencies - Soybean rust losses covered, but know the rules

April 05, 2005

Maryland and federal agencies are urging farmers with crop insurance to talk to their crop insurance agent to fully understand their responsibilities if Asian soybean rust affects the state.

Farmers need to meet the "challenges presented by this disease," said Ross J. Davidson Jr., administrator of USDA's Risk Management Agency.

"While the disease is an insured peril under the federal crop insurance program, damage due to the insufficient or improper application of available disease control measures is not."

Soybean rust is a fungal disease causing yield losses of up to 80 percent in areas of southern Africa and South America when an infected crop is left untreated, the Maryland Department of Agriculture said.

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The virulent plant pathogen, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, is primarily spread by windborne spores that can be transported over long distances, the agency said. It said that it is believed that last year's hurricanes carried the spores from South America to the southeastern United States.

The USDA Risk Management Agency oversees the federal crop insurance program, which is delivered through private insurance companies.

"We do not know that soybean rust will occur in Maryland this year or next, but MDA staff, Maryland Cooperative Extension and others have been preparing to help our farmers handle this situation for some time," said state Secretary of Agriculture Lewis R. Riley.

"For farmers, part of the preparation for soybean rust, is to be clear on the role of crop insurance in protection against potential losses."

Under the terms of the Common Crop Insurance Policy, a practice is considered a "good farming practice" if agricultural experts agree that the production method used will allow the crop to make normal progress toward maturity and produce at least the yield used to determine the production guarantee, Riley said.

In a press release, the Risk Management Agency warned that "failure to purchase and apply adequate control measures due to economic reasons is not an insurable cause of loss with federal crop insurance.

"Producers must be knowledgeable of any pending outbreaks and the control methods recommended by local agricultural experts, such as Extension agents and certified crop consultants, used in their area to combat the disease."

It said appropriate treatment may vary from timing of application before or after discovering the disease, frequency and choice of chemical or other determining factors. "If crops become infected, RMA recommends that insured producers document the date of discovery of the disease, any recommendations received from agricultural experts, and actions taken regarding the application of appropriate control measures.

The federal agency said it's the approved insurance providers' responsibility to verify that losses are unavoidable due to naturally occurring events. "That includes verifying producers followed good farming practices or that chemicals or application equipment were not available or natural events - for example, excessive moisture - precluded access to the crop to timely apply the recommended treatments."

The agency warned that "if good farming practices are not followed, production attributed to the failure to follow good farming practices is assessed, resulting in a reduction in the indemnity."

Producers can find the latest information on the spread of Asian soybean rust from from USDA's Web site at www.usda.gov/soybean.rust

For more information re-garding good farming practices and crop insurance protection against Asian soybean rust, see the crop policies area on the RMA Web site at www.rma.usda.gov

The Maryland Department of Agriculture Web site at www.mda.state.md.us also has detailed information on soybean rust and its controls, including the state's "Soybean Rust Response and Action Plan." The agency said any suspect detections are to be reported immediately to MDA at 1-410-841-5920.

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